The News Tribune logo

Monday, May 19, 2008

Is It Really The End of The Road for Rhodes?



A picture of Marge Kinder and her great granddaughter, Erin at Rhodes Reunion

Thirty four years of reunions, detailed planning, rich history, tears for the lost, hugs for those left, memories, laughs, deep Tacoma love—these are the ingredients of the former Tacoma Rhodes Department Store employees who gather together annually. Rhodes, the business beacon and Tacoma icon, opened its doors in 1903 with a promise of great customer service, employee loyalty, and quality. The store delivered on those promises until its downtown doors closed at 11th and Broadway in 1974. Some employees followed the business to the Tacoma Mall under the new moniker, Liberty House (which eventually morphed into Frederick and Nelson). Others chose new paths; but one thing was clear; the Rhodes employees were committed to staying in touch with each other. My grandmother, Margaret (Marge) Kinder, believed in this commitment and served as an active member of the reunion committee since it’s inception and even chaired it for a couple of years. At 87, she still serves as the reunion luncheon “greeter,” party favor creator, membership detail, and a variety of other things. I got to see Grandma in action last year and again this year at the Elks Club in Tacoma on May 17th, where the reunion members, now in their 70’s and beyond, braved the heat wave and gathered to say hello to friends, and regrettably, goodbye to a long standing tradition.

And indeed they came. By car, taxi, long distances and short, and even one spirited lady came by motorcycle. Many ladies donned their crisp summer whites and all embraced the refreshing cool air of the interior of the Elks. I helped direct guests to the luncheon room and even personally escorted a lovely lady named Maude who reminisced with me about her Rhodes days and her upcoming 96th birthday. There were lots of hugs and good wishes with folks checking in on each other’s health and well being. The tables were cheery and like last year, the Rhodes historic photos, food menus, sales slips, and other memorabilia were carefully and lovingly displayed; yet despite that, more attention seemed to be focused on the sheer number of obituaries of former Rhodes team members who passed away over the year.

Dorothy Hayden, long time, hardworking committee chairwoman, welcomed guests and read aloud messages from those long time members who couldn’t make it due to illness or other commitments. Memories were shared from the podium: the sweet little lady who worked in the business office that got robbed and chased her assailant, the nightly toilet paper thief, Christmas whimsy, the dreaded “boss” that nobody liked (and no, that “boss” was not in attendance), wee bits of gossip, prayers, women’s successes in a male dominated business world and insightful business discussion of today’s current retail scene. A hearty lunch was served and a sweet little raffle was held that boasted ten winners. Sounds like a heartwarming and delightful event, right?

Yes and no. The reunion committee was looking for new folks to step up and take over the planning of this yearly event. This did not happen. And it may not. There were misty eyes, tearful embraces, and difficult goodbyes because the writing was on the wall. Hearts hung heavy. While Tacoma enjoys a current downtown revival, these retail pioneers and friends know that the history books are calling out their names for the final chapters.

It is with this, that I honor the Rhodes team of yesteryear. I honor them as a Tacoma citizen for the contribution to our history, our growth, and our business world. I honor them as a businesswoman, for paving the way for others and for recognizing the value in team work and quality. I honor them as a person, who respects and admires these fine generations of folks who truly care about each other and took pride in their work. Personally, I honor my grandmother for her energy and enthusiasm. While this may be the end of an era, it’s the beginning of a fine legacy that will continue to flourish for all of us.

9 comments:

Stephanie Frieze said...

So many of the stores that were a big part of my childhood are gone. Besides Rhodes, Newberry's, Frederick & Nelson and the Bon Marche are all gone. Norstrom's, orginally a shoe store has morphed into a place I can neither afford nor care to step into. ISometimes it feels as though eventually there will be one store and one company that will own everything.

Kim Thompson said...

It's sad, isn't it? That's why I enjoyed the luncheon so much, because it's this commitment to old fashioned internal and external customer service that seems to be missing these days.

EmeraldPrincessOnline said...

I'm with you on that comment about Nordstrom, Stephanie. I don't feel that I even have a single garment that I could wear that I would dare set foot inside Nordy's. You're more likely to find me at Value Village...

Another downtown icon, though not in the upper echilon of classiness, is the loss of the dime store in downtown Tacoma, i.e. Woolworth's. Many a memory -- and some history -- was made there as well.

My husband's mother ran the luncheonette at Woolworth's for many, many years and endured racial slurs and slights in order to earn a living and independently put food on the table for her son, who became my beloved husband. She was such a hard worker, year after year, faithfully showing up, giving her all, and serving up each order with a smile despite their abuse of her.

Kim Thompson said...

You know it's interesting you mention Woolworth's. I have had a lot of long time locals tell me that they miss Woolworth and the Proctor Dimestore. I know for me, I wanted to use allowance money for Christmas gifts for my family and the Proctor Dimestore fit the bill (literally).

JosephMcG said...

Wow... what beautiful people... the passing of an era... hopefully others will remember us as human beings who tried to stick together and create something real for those who would come after us...

thank you for sharing this wonderful moment...

JosephMcG said...

JJ... your mother in law is one really cool lady... and so courageous... I would not have wanted to know about the pain she experienced at Woolworth's because I love her a lot... at the same time your comment helps me to understand more the wonder of her... her graciousness, her patience, her compassion... her love of God...
If I can be like her... I shall be happy
Joseph

Patty Cake said...

I too miss the Proctor Dime Store; Peoples Store; Lyons and Bell Telephone where you could actually go and BUY a phone - not like the portable phones you buy today. I also agree there is NO customer service in todays retail stores.

Kim Thompson said...

Patty, what's interesting is that "customer service" was the big discussion point with the Rhodes folk. The other thing they said was that when you worked in part of the store, that part of the store was YOURS--you owned it and it was just as important as things in your own home.

There's a lot of wisdom in that.

EmeraldPrincessOnline said...

One place I will give credit to for customer service is the Safeway at Lakewood Towne Center. Their employees make a point of stopping and asking, "Can I help you find something?" Not only that, but when you tell them what it is you're looking for, they don't just say, "Oh! That's over on Aisle 27-B" and then dart away. Nope. They say, "It's over on Aisle 27-B. Follow me and I'll show you right where it is..." and then they actually insist on walking you over to find the item.